Original Band Photo
In the pantheon of sixties garage rock, arguably the most anti-authority anthem of them all is the Knaves’ “Leave Me Alone”. The rebellious lyrics alone secure this song’s reputation among garage aficionados. Look no further than these punk sentiments (from Knaves teenage prime mover Howard Berkman):
“I was sittin’ in a restaurant, tryin’ to shake the flies outta my hair,
I was lookin’ at my woman, I was admirin’ the silverware.
Then up steps a waiter, he says, ‘Hey babe, you can’t do that.’
He said, ‘Why don’t you order somethin’?’ I said, ‘Give me a leg of fat.’
He said, ‘Look here, baby, we can’t do that, it’s Un-American in tone.’
So I put down my fork and I said, ‘Leave Me Alone.’”
The raw guitar and harmonica-driven tune, reminiscent of England’s Pretty Things, captured the Knaves’ onstage bad boy image. According to Howard Berkman, “The difference between the Knaves and everybody else is we were terribly dysfunctional juvenile delinquent kids. We had this tremendous following among all the kids because they could relate to that.” In a testament to the group’s local popularity, “Leave Me Alone” actually forced its way onto the playlist of Chicago’s WCFL. Originally released on the tiny Glen label, it was picked up for wider release by Dunwich Records.
While “Leave Me Alone” reflected the group’s long-haired, outcast image, “The Girl I Threw Away” (b-side of “Leave Me Alone”) was shockingly accomplished by comparison. Richie Unterberger of All Music Guide expertly summed up its appeal: "’The Girl I Threw Away’ deserves its reputation as one of the most outstanding fusions of Byrds-y folk-rock with morose '60s garage punk.”
The Knaves were based out of the North and Northwest suburbs of the Windy City; namely Skokie, Des Plaines and Morton Grove. Child prodigy Berkman recalls being a working musician since the age of ten. In his very early teens, he played guitar with the Jesters, a surf band including future folky Steve Goodman (“City of New Orleans”) and more importantly, future Knaves drummer Gene Lubin. The Knaves formed in ’64, with the remainder of the lineup filled-out by Neal Pollack and Mark Feldman; two non-musicians on bass and rhythm guitar, respectively. However, there was more chemistry than clash between the experienced and amateur members. The lineup was further strengthened by the arrival of John Hulbert on second lead guitar, harmonica and harmony vocals.
Despite the relative local success of “Leave Me Alone”, an intriguing Dunwich follow-up (“Inside Outside”/”Your Stuff”) was pressed in so few copies that it was considered unreleased until a few copies finally surfaced in the 1990’s. “Inside Outside” is one of the best-ever stateside distillations of England’s Troggs. “Your Stuff” is quirkier fare, blending more Knaves-style sexual suggestiveness (a la “Inside Outside”) with attractive, almost out of place jazzy guitar elements throughout. It’s their weirdest side but deceptively catchy, too.
Neal Pollack left the Knaves in August ’66. Stu Einstein was his replacement during their brief stay with Dunwich. When the group’s equipment was stolen out of their van, they threw in the towel. Though they only released two singles, and barely that, the Knaves rank today with the Windy City’s finest bands of the garage era.